I never imagined, as a young girl playing with my dolls and friends, running free in the park, that food and my obsession to it would be my biggest challenge growing up. Beauty was power from the moment I received my first compliment. It meant people liked me and wanted to know me. It meant I was popular and cool. I thought from all the advertising I saw, the more beautiful a woman was, the more she was adored and cherished. All the beautiful women I saw seemed so perfect with an idolized life, especially in the magazines and on TV.
By the time I reached puberty and realized that I could attract attention from my physical beauty, I began striving for an unrealistic perfection, a perfection that does not exist. To achieve it, I started exercising a couple of hours every day. I was 12 years old and my sights were set on achieving the body of models in magazines. I was obsessed with my body image, believing that being beautiful externally was the key to happiness.
In five short years, by the time I was seventeen, I had a full-blown food addiction. With my mentality of trying to control my ‘perfect’ body image, I knew I had to control my addiction, so when I binged, I would either purge using laxatives or exercise to the point of exhaustion. When I felt the guilt of binging, I would try and gain control by restricting my diet to egg whites and water.
I had so much shame and guilt. I would lose five pounds overnight and gain 10 within days. I ostracized myself. My behaviour felt uncontrollable—as if I was possessed—and it prevented me from living a normal life. I would avoid certain places and people when going through one of my binge cycles. I would cancel going to parties, funerals, weddings, every event, because I feared someone might notice that I put on a few pounds, and that would bring on a shame that I couldn’t address because I knew what I was doing was wrong. In a restricting cycle, I would try to get out as much as I could as I didn’t know when the next binge would appear. When I was feeling good and restricting, it was as if I had just taken speed and so I was raring to go take on the world.
It didn’t matter if others told me I looked good because I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin. We need food to survive and, unlike other addictive substances, we can’t just give up food entirely. I never imagined I could ever stop the insanity of the cyclical behaviour because I had forgotten how to eat without restricting and binging or binging and restricting. I didn’t understand how others could stay slim and eat foods I wouldn’t let myself eat, such as those dreaded carbohydrates.
Desperate from the pointless suffering, I finally reached out for help. I tried many different approaches, everything from overeaters anonymous to psychotherapy. You name it, I tried it. Each treatment, each approach and each moment allowed me to move through the pain I put inside my body, mind and spirit.
In my big ‘a-ha’ moment, I realized something. I finally saw that if I was going to recover from my addiction, I would have to fill the void of my cyclical behaviour with something really big. After many years of suffering, hitting rock bottom and thinking I was going to die from organ failure or (if there’s such a thing) bursting your stomach from eating too much, I had to find that big something.
I prayed every day and every night for the insanity to stop, and then I chose a new career path. I became a psychotherapist because as part of my self-discovery, I learned that helping others had become my purpose and my passion. I’ve heard many stories from so many people who have suffered as I have. I penned dozens and dozens of journals, chronicling my recovery and healing process, and in hearing clients speak about their struggles, I decided to write a book so I could share my message and help as many people as possible.
Part of the recovery journey is that you have to want it bad enough, and be willing to go through the pain and trauma of all the feelings that are associated with food addiction or fear of food. Identifying the symptoms is the first step. When you’ve accepted that there’s a problem, the best thing to jumpstart your road to recovery is to see a professional. Whether it’s a medical doctor, or a psychotherapist, having support is key to moving forward.
After many years of hard work, I no longer use food to soothe my emotions. I was told that healing from food addiction wouldn’t be easy but it would be worth it and it’s true. Once you recover, you will look back and it will all seem like a dream.
Stacey Gorlicky is a registered psychotherapist, addictions counsellor and spiritual transformation coach. Specializing in treating trauma, anxiety and depression, she takes a spiritual and natural approach to healing. Her book Food, Sex and You: Untangling Body Obsession in a Weight-Obsessed World is a fresh look at food, sex, what happens when we become too dependent on either, and how to start recovering. Find it at bookstores and as an ebook at foodsexandyou.com.